It's only Bears cornerback Corey Graham's second season, but he seems to grasp the urgency of improving the pass defense, especially Sunday afternoon against the 4-5 Packers in Green Bay.
"Right now everybody's on thin ice," said Graham, who started four games when Nathan Vasher was out and has played nickelback in the past two. "It's real tense around here as far as the DBs. We know they're going to throw the ball. That's what they do, so we're going to go out there and try to make some plays."
The 5-4 Bears' defense is predicated on takeaways, but the only one they had last week was a fumble recovery by Graham on a fourth-and-goal play that would have been stopped short of the goal line anyway. Not counting the four interceptions in the Vikings games, the Bears have picked off just four passes in the past five games. Even worse, they've allowed each of the past four opposing quarterbacks to throw for at least 289 yards. And none of those teams rank higher than 19th in passing yards. Graham said that makes for a tense situation in the secondary.
"Why is it tense?" Graham said. "Because when you give up 300 yards to teams that don't normally throw the ball like that, it's going to be tense. It's our jobs on the line. We've got to go out there and be accountable. We've got to make plays, and that's what we plan to do."
Graham has played well enough to hang on to Danieal Manning's nickel spot even after Manning returned last week following two weeks on the sideline with a hamstring injury. But Vasher could have his playing time cut if the Bears decide to get more physical with Graham and Manning both on the field in nickel.
The Bears' other major malfunction on defense has been an inability to get to the quarterback. They rank 29th in sack percentage, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sacked four times in each of the past two games – as a team, they're 19th in protecting the QB.
Soft coverage and a weak pass rush have created a Catch-22 situation on the defense when it comes to stopping the pass: Is it because of shortcomings in coverage or the pass rush that opponents have been able to exploit the Bears?
LB Brian Urlacher
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
"It's kind of rubbing a lot of people the wrong way here on this defense, and that's a good thing," said defensive right end Adewale Ogunleye, who had the Bears' only sack last week. "Hopefully we'll all look in the mirror, myself included, and say 'I've got to play better to help out this pass defense.'"
Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs have been utilized on blitzes to try to help the pass rush, but they've combined for just half a sack.
"We've tried to attack more this year, and we have blitzed quite a bit this year," Urlacher told the Green Bay-area media. "We haven't gotten sacks, but we've been blitzing quite a bit. We're just not stopping the pass very well. We've given up some plays, but it's nothing that teams are doing to us. We just have to make plays when we get a chance to do it. We're just getting out of position for the most part on defense."
Just about every player on defense can say the same thing.
NOTES & QUOTES
Injured quarterback Kyle Orton was able to practice with his sprained right ankle on a limited basis Wednesday and took some reps with the first team.
He was also able to drop back, at somewhat less than full speed, and throw some passes on the side when he wasn't working with the starters.
"It's early in the week, but I'm preparing like I am [going to start]," Orton said. "It's gotten better every day, so hopefully it just continues to do that."
Head coach Lovie Smith said Orton looked "pretty good" at practice and that he doesn't have to be 100 percent to start in Green Bay.
"Who is 100 percent this time of the year?" Smith said. "We won't let Kyle play if he can't protect himself [or] if we just don't feel like he's ready to go. Beyond that, it's pretty subjective. We'll know if he's ready to go. If he continues to make progress like he has, I think he has a good chance to play."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Orton's status may depend on how he feels after Wednesday's work.
"If it feels good, obviously he can get more reps [Thursday]," Turner said. "If not, then we'll just do about the same and bring him along." …
Smith has never lost a game as a head coach at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, winning on all four trips since taking over as the Bears' boss in 2004.
Smith's first win with the Bears was at Lambeau, 21-10 on Sept. 19, 2004. In `05, the Bears swept the Packers, winning 19-7 at home and then 24-17 on the road. The Super Bowl team opened the `06 regular season with a 26-0 victory in Green Bay, and Smith enjoyed another sweep last year, winning 27-20 there and 35-7 at Soldier Field.
"We play the same type of ball up there," Smith said. "It's not like we change up our philosophies. We've been able to execute up there and find a way to win, and hopefully we'll be able to this time. They're a good football team. We have a pack right now in the NFC North. This is a tight competition going on."
The Bears and Vikings are tied for first in the NFC North at 5-4, and the Packers are a game back at 4-5. …
Rex Grossman said his mindset has to be the same this week as it was last, when he assumed he would be the starter.
"I've got to go out there and prepare like I'm going to play the whole game," Grossman said. "Obviously I don't know what's going on, so that's how I'm going to approach it."
The good news is that Grossman is 3-0 at Lambeau Field. The bad news is his passer rating last week was 64.4 in his first start of the season.
"I'm feeling pretty good about that stadium," he said. "I've got a good vibe going in there."
BEAR REPORT: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears